Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is It Worth It?

Deciding to study Islam was a pretty easy decision for me to make when I began applying for Masters programs. I applied to programs in development, gender, sexuality, Islam, sociology - and in the end very easily chose the one about Islam. Since becoming religious, I feel like more moderate Muslims need to speak out and I wanted to be part of that. Tariq Ramadan, Reza Aslan, Leila Ahmed, Fatima Mernissi - all these authors had the guts to challenge mainstream conservative Islam that takes the Qur'an and Hadith very literally. They had the guts to say "no, we need to re-interpret Islam because we live in a different context." Something that would seem quite logical but actually offends many Muslims, who are probably worried that doing this will change the religion. Before these we had Muhammad Abduh and Al-Afghani, who also argued that Islam needs to change in order to apply to modern times. And the barrier they saw to this process was, of course, the ulama.

The history of the ulama in Islam is definitely something I would love to study. It seems to me that at some point they got very powerful and began to misuse this power. They also became very rigid and conservative, not allowing ANY form of Islam except theirs - hence they would often persecute Sufis, Shia's, liberal Muslims. I think a big point was when the doors of ijtihad were closed. I mean doesn't anyone find that troubling?! Why did that happen and WHO decided it should happen? Couldn't power have played a role in that? Al-Afghani writes:

"What does it mean that the door of ijtihad is closed? By what text was it closed? Which imam said that, after him, no Muslim should use his personal judgment to understand religion, be guided by the Qur'an and the true prophetic traditions and endeavor to widen his understanding of them and deduce, through analogy what applies to the modern sciences and the needs and requirements of the present?"

It's also interesting that Shi'as never closed the door to ijtihad. I've also read that they believe in an uncreated Qur'an, meaning that it is okay to reinterpret it according to the modern situation. This seems to me a much more progressive viewpoint than that of the Sunni ulama (and therefore most Sunnis).

Back to Al-Afghani's quote: it's funny how if a writer said something like that today, he/she would probably get attacked relentlessly, whereas Al-Afghani was one of the foremost Islamic scholars of his time. And that brings me to my point: is studying Islam and going into the field worth it? Will people listen? Or will I just get attacked and labeled an infidel, as we have seen happen countless times, especially with women scholars? It just seems to me that Islam today is dominated by conservative elements who do not want to listen to any views other than their own. Considering that I want to study gender and Islam, a topic that's already pretty controversial, is it worth even putting my view out there?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tax on Headscarves...Yes, Really

I'm sure a lot of you have heard about Geert Wilders, an infamous far-right Dutch politician who made the film "Fitna" and is responsible for a lot of anti-Islamic sentiment in Holland. He has compared the Qur'an to Mein Kampf by Hitler, and has also suggested it be banned in Holland. His latest bright idea is to introduce a tax on headscarves.

When I first heard about this my gut reaction was laughter, followed closely by shock. I mean seriously?! Tax women who wear headscarves?! His suggestion was a 1000 euro tax (!!) because he sees headscarves as something that "pollute" the streets. He also speicifed that it would ONLY apply to Muslim women who cover their hair, and not Christian women who do the same. So it's obviously blatantly discriminatory.

To make things worse, he said all money from this tax would go to women's emancipation programmes. It's pretty clear then, what he thinks the headscarf means. In the past he has pushed for an outright ban on headscarves, because he sees them as the ultimate form of oppression for women.

Some quotes from the eloquent politician:

"It is time 'to clean up our streets. This is pollution of public spaces. Let us do something about this symbol of oppression."

"We have had enough of headscarves."

"If the tax is introduced we are finally going to earn some money back from the Islam."

he mosques, headscarves and Muslim men with beards and long dresses pollute the cityscape."

So yeah, you can see what kind of man we're dealing with here. The sad thing is that he's very popular. His party has the most support in Holland, and elections are coming up in 2012, where he's likely to win the majority of seats. If that isn't dangerous I don't know what is.

The only silver lining is that his proposal was met with ridicule and intense opposition in parliament. But what about on the Dutch street?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eid Mubarak!

Ramadan is over, and I just want to say Eid Mubarak to everyone! I feel spiritually refreshed, and hope that I continue reading Qur'an and praying as much as I can, insha'Allah. I am really going to miss Ramadan, but it'll definitely be nice to have my morning tea again :) I hope everyone has an amazing Eid!

I'll leave you with this passage that brought tears to my eyes:

"For beyond the admonitions to the faithful to create a good society by observing the Law, there is a message addressed to the whole of humanity. It is a message that proclaims the Eternal Transcendent, and man's special responsibility as guardian of this planet. It is a message which calls on men and women to show gratitude for the world's bounty, to use it wisely and distribute it equitably.

It is a message phrased in the language and imagery of a pastoral people who understood that survival depended upon submission to the natural laws governing their environment, and upon rules of hospitality demanding an even sharing of limited resources.

In a world increasingly riven by the gap between rich and poor nations, and in growing danger of environmental catastrophe, this message has an urgent relevance. It is one we ignore at our peril."

Friday, September 18, 2009


After the last two posts on Hadith and Polygamy I thought I'd lighten things up a bit :D I went shopping today and bought the cutest tea mugs & cups ever!! I LOVE them!!

I can add them to the my growing tea-things collection :D Some of my favs...

I also bought a huge red teapot that holds 10 cups of tea. Can't imagine ever drinking 10 cups of tea at one time but I know my best friend Reem and I could do it together :D She's the only other person I know who loves tea as much as I do!
I think I'm going to go have some now :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009


The concept of polygamy is something I've never been able to come to terms with. Despite the many arguments put forward for it, I just have never been comfortable with the idea that a man can marry more than one woman, whereas a woman can't. I simply can't imagine being in love with a man and having him marry another woman, or even just knowing that he could if he wanted to.

"And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course."

Many scholars have put forward the argument that it was only for that specific time and context: there had just been a war, and many women were without husbands (and therefore protection), and thus polygamy was a good solution. In today's context, however, it no longer makes any sense.

Other scholars have put forward the idea that the Qur'an is in effect disallowing polygamy because of the following verse:

"You cannot be equitable in a polygamous relationship, no matter how hard you try." (4:129)

In effect it seems to say that man cannot treat all his wives equally, and thus shouldn't try. However, another argument was put forward that says that God only meant legal and financial equality. Unsurprisingly many fundamentalist Muslims hold this view, and I never bought it until a few days ago when I read this in a book by an author I respect:

"It is clear, from both the Qur'anic rules of marriage and the Prophet's own example, that equality of treatment refers strictly to legally enforcable matters such as a woman's right to her own household."

He (Malise Ruthven) doesn't elaborate on the "Qur'anic rules of marriage" that he brings up, but he is right about the Prophet's example - the Prophet did have a favoruite, Aisha. Thus his example may mean that the Qur'an is only referring to legal and financial matters, and not emotional/sexual/other matters. Is this a widespread view? I would not be surprised if many conservative ulama hold this view, but what about other Islamic scholars, and what about Muslims in general?

This finding has gotten me all bothered about polygamy again. I just can't bring myself to be 100% okay with it, which of course makes me feel guilty since it's in the Qur'an. A big part of me thinks there must be an explanation for it, but I'm not sure what it is. I was sure about the above-mentioned argument about the Qur'an in effect saying men cannot treat 4 women equally, but if this author is right then the argument is no longer valid.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The issue of the Hadith interests me both on the level of being a Muslim, and on the sociological & historical level. I haven't studied the issue enough to make up my mind about it, but I do know that a lot of questionable practices in Islamic communities are rooted in the Hadith, often with no support from the Qur'an. Another point is that often I come across Hadith that contradict the general spirit and message of the Qur'an. An example of these are the sexist Hadith one finds pretty often. It seems strange to me that the Qur'an gives women so many rights, and then there are Hadith that take them away; or that the Qur'an affirms that women are conscious beings, and then there are Hadith that treat us like objects.

I guess my main question is this: what role are Hadith supposed to play in the life of a Muslim? I definitely don't think they should be on the same level at the Qur'an, since after all, they were transmitted by human beings. I also don't think we should reject all Hadith, especially since we wouldn't know how to pray if it weren't for Hadith.

But is it okay to just focus on Hadith we like, and ignore ones we don't? How do we know if they are authentic? I also have a problem with the whole authenticating thing, because: the Hadith were compiled more than 200 years after the death of the Prophet (pbuh); they were transmitted by human beings, who are bound to make mistakes; who decided whether a transmitter was "pious, honest, etc"? Furthermore, most of the transmitters and collectors of Hadith were men, who lived in a very patriarchal society (so patriarchal that God had to constantly remind them of how to treat women). So how do we know that they didn't pick and choose certain Hadith?

Another point is that the Prophet (pbuh) is said to have told people not to record his sayings (ironically we know this from a Hadith), and all four caliphs that came after him were against Hadith being recorded or collected. A final point is that the Qur'an says that it is complete. What does this mean in terms of how we see Hadith and the role they play in our lives?

I recently read two pieces on Hadith that I found interesting. One is an article called "Does the Hadith have a solid historical basis?" by Abdur Rab. The other is an excerpt from "Islam" by Fazlur Rahman, who is an amazing scholar. He writes:

"Unless the problem of the Hadith is critically, historically and constructively treated, there seems little prospect of distinguishing the essential from the purely historical."


"What is necessary is to know the genesis and evolution of a given Hadith in order to reveal what function it did or was supposed to perform and whether Islamic needs do still demand such function or not."

I agree more with Rahman than Abdur Rab. I think we need to be very critical when approaching Hadith, and we also need to realize that most Hadith responded to the social context of that period, and may not make sense today.

I posted this about an hour ago, then had second thoughts and took it down, but then realized that I shouldn't censor myself. I really want to hear what everyone thinks, and if anyone has any advice.
Ooo and I also wrote a post below today, so don't forget to read that one too :D

Islamic Femininity

I am currently reading "Western Muslims and the Future of Islam" by Tariq Ramadan (maybe I should just start a blog about him, haha) and I thought I'd post some interesting points:

"The issue of women is a sensitive one in almost all Western Islamic communities, and it sometimes appears that the whole question of faithfulness to Islam centers on it. Moreover, the repeated allusions and questions of our fellow-citizens, intellectuals, and the media about "women in Islam" cause a sort of psychological pressure that drives Muslims to adopt a defensive and often apologetic stance, which is not always objective."

"We are far from the ideal of equality before God, complementarity in family and social relations, and financial independence, behind which many ulama and intellectuals hide behind by quoting verses and Prophetic traditions."

"One also finds all sorts of restrictions to do with women, such as the "Islamic" prohibition against their working, having social involvements, speaking in public, and engaging in politics. And what have we not heard about the impossibility of "mixing"! One can certainly find ulama in the traditionalist and literalist schools who declare that these are Islamic teachings, but it is essential we go back to the scriptural sources to evaluate these practices, and to draw a clear distinction between customs that are culturally based and Islamic principles.

AMEN! I couldn't have said it better. And he finally labeled what I've been wondering what to call - the traditionalists and literalists (commonly known as fundamentalists in the media).

He goes on to mention how Muslim women who work at grassroots level do not judge each other re. hijab, but rather see it as a personal choice, and accept each other's choices. That sounds strange to me, since it's definitely not what I see in blog world. In fact I think the issue of hijab has very severely split Muslims into opposing camps, with a lot of bitterness, judgment, and negativity being exchanged between the 2 "sides".

Great book, I recommend it to everyone. I actually found out yesterday that Tariq Ramadan was supposed to be the person supervising my thesis, if he had ended up coming to my university (which he didn't, even though he accepted the job. Not sure what happened after that). I'm sure you guys can imagine how annoying that was for me!

By the way here are the videos of the debate I posted about earlier (there is more but it wasn't posted):

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

So Apparently Summer Isn't Over...

After a week of rain and cold I was pretty sure summer was over, but today was really hot and sunny, so I guess it isn't. Here are some pictures of the oldest botanical garden in Holland, where my friend & I went today. It's in the city of Leiden and is amazingly beautiful.

Of course the day I end up in a botanical garden is the one day I don't have my camera with me, so these aren't the best quality since they were taken with my phone.

(The first 3 photos aren't of the garden.)

Monday, September 7, 2009


Just had carrot passion cake and a vanilla latte from Starbucks.


(Not my pics by the way. Tried to take pics with my phone cam and they didn't look as good as these haha. I had to show you how amazing the cake tasted, so I needed first-class photos :D.)

Update: why can't carrot cake be one of those negative-calorie foods, where you burn more calories than you gain when you eat them? Sigh. Imagine a world where you could eat carrot cake all day.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I Just Saw Tariq Ramadan!!!

Yes! It was amazing!

I was having iftar at a friend's house yesterday (I'm making friends! Yay!) and she mentioned that Tariq Ramadan would be speaking in a debate the next day about the fact that he got fired from Erasmus University (in Rotterdam). This was a big story here for a few weeks. Ramadan worked as a visiting professor at Erasmus and also for the local Rotterdam government on issues of citizenship and immigration. Then suddenly he was fired from both positions, apparently because a show he hosts, "Islam & Life", is funded by Iran.

Ramadan then wrote a letter about the issue, click here to read.

Anyway the debate today was between Ramadan and a representative from Erasmus, and then between Ramadan and 2 politicians, one from the far right, and another who was on Ramadan's side.

Ramadan's opening statement was basically about how he knew that the reason he got fired was because of the upcoming elections. There's a lot of anti-Islam sentiment now in Holland, and so politicians know that they need to focus on this to win, and thus firing someone with a high profile like Ramadan would surely win votes.

My favourite quote was this: "I'm leaving. Goodbye. Wilders is staying. Good luck." Wilders is a far-right politician who wants to ban the Qur'an in Holland and who was responsible for making Fitna - a very negative documentary about Islam. Polls show that were elections to take place now, Wilders would win (!).

What's happening to Holland? When and how did it go from being the most open-minded, tolerant country to being one of the least? The far right politician at the debate today said so many insulting things about Islam, including that "anyone who is Muslim cannot develop to their full potential" and that Islam contradicts the "open, Western, Christian culture in Holland". He kept bringing up the fact that Muslims could not become ex-Muslims and the bad treatment homosexuals receive from Muslims (both true and both serious issues) despite Ramadan giving clear, concise rebuttals.

Ramadan then said that power combined with a lack of understand is very dangerous, and he was referring to this politician. He said the guy had a very simplistic view of Islam, and that he was just creating an atmosphere of fear (post 9-11 America anybody?) where Dutch people don't trust their fellow Dutch Muslims. And that the reason for all this is so they can win the next elections. Ramadan kept saying he was trying to focus on bigger issues and on the future, not just on the next election.

Why are far-right politicians so obsessed with Islam?

Is there a problem with Muslims integrating into Dutch society, or is it all hype created by the media and politicians to manipulate people into voting for conservative parties?
More importantly, do these politicians see Dutch Muslims as DUTCH or immigrants? Because looking at and treating them like immigrants will obviously make these Dutch Muslims feel like they don't belong. Ramadan mentioned getting emails from Dutch Muslims saying they no longer feel like they belong in Holland, and that they don't feel safe or welcome anymore. These are people, for the most part, who speak Dutch, have jobs, have families, and on the whole are Dutch - so why is there a problem? Of course there are some who don't integrate. But is it the majority?

Anyway it was an amazing night, and I'm so happy I got to see him! It's so sad he won't be teaching at Erasmus anymore, otherwise I could have taken his classes. He was actually offered a position at the university I will be going to, and he accepted, but then something weird happened and he ended up turning the job down. What's up with Ramadan and Holland??!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Islamophobia and the Privileging of Arab American Women

Just read this interesting article by Nada Elia, called "Islamophobia and the Privileging of Arab American Women" (2006). Some of her main points (my thoughts in Italics):

- The impulse to save Muslim women from their male kin pervades various social and political movements in the US. Even in the 21st century, Western feminism retains its highly exploitative approach to other women.

This is true, I think Western feminism, while arguing for equal rights between sexes, is promoting a racist agenda. Just by assuming that Muslim women need to be "saved", they are saying something about the inability of Muslim women to help themselves.

- The confluence of church and state, with the presidential worldview today of embracing Christianity and Zionism, is a lethal mix for Arabs and Arab Americans, who are perceived as the quintessential enemy. As it predates 9/11, this rejection cannot be attributed to the trauma of the terrorist attacks, and is quite clearly based in religious intolerance, the assumption that Arabs are irrevocably "other" because they are Muslim, aliens in this Judeo-Christian culture.

This is definitely something I see in Holland now. The Muslim being seen as the "other", and as so different from the Dutch and Dutch culture.

- It must be emphasized that a desire to improve women's circumstances, here or abroad, has never characterized the Bush administration, Nevertheless, "women's liberation" proved a convinient excuse to attack countries with which the US was already intent on going to war. At the same time, the centuries-old Western fascination with the veil, now readily visible on American streets, behind the steering wheels of American SUVs, in American malls, and in American college classrooms, was jolted into renewed life.

I still remember that one of the MAIN reasons for going to war with Afghanistan seemed to be "saving the women". Don't you remember all the photos of women in burqa's all over the media, as if that gave some sort of legitimacy to what the government was about to do? All the books that suddenly came out about women escaping, women being freed, and how horrible the men in Afghanistan were. Yes, the Taliban WERE horrible. But don't use that as an excuse and a cover-up for war.

- The failure to identify racism and religious intolerance as a major social wrong in the US closely parallels mainstream Western feminism's failure to identify many Arab women's oppressors in their home countries. Thus many "progressive feminists" fail to acknowledge that Palestinian women's freedom of movement, their freedom to vote, to obtain an education and access to health care, and the basic right to have a roof over their heads in their own historic homeland, is denied to them not by Arab men, but by the Israeli occupier.

This is a good point. In Iraq - do you think it is more important for women to have security and be able to leave their house without risking getting killed; or to be able to have freedom of speech? Yes they shouldn't have to choose. But I feel that a lot of women would choose security for them and their families.

- And while the West favours Arab women writers over their male compatriots, even among female authors, those denouncing Islam are favoured over those denouncing the occupation of their country by Israeli and American troops.

Look at any bookshelf anywhere.

- They (Arab American women) find themselves, in the opening decades of the 21st century, following centuries of Arab presence in the US, still explaining the most basic aspects of their culture, still refuting egregious stereotypes, still on the defensive.

Something I've experienced here in Holland. I find that while I know about the basics of other religions, many people don't know or don't understand the basics of mine - not because the information is not out there, but because it seems to be easier to believe something controversial than something that makes sense.
And I think as a Muslim, you've probably experienced being on the defensive at one point or another - not a nice feeling.

Overall I liked the article, although she did make some big claims that she didn't back up well. This was written during Bush's reign so I wonder if things have changed under Obama?